Great news for fans of good French music – fifteen artists have come together under the name of La Bande à Renaud to record a tribute album to Renaud, one of the great characters on the French music scene. The album, which has just been released, contains 14 of Renaud’s best known songs. Among those taking part in the project are Carla Bruni (who is married to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy), Nolwenn Leroy, Bénabar, Thomas Dutronc (son of the great Françoise Hardy), Renan Luce, Elodie Frégé, HF (Hubert-Félix) Thiéfaine, Benoît Dorémus, Alexis HK, and Nicolas Sirkis (lead singer with well-known French new wave-pop-rock band Indochine).
The first single from the album, though, is Mistral Gagnant by Canadian singer Coeur de Pirate, which has entered the top 50 on the French single charts. She does a superb job on this song, which highlights the beauty of the French language and shows how great Renaud’s songwriting was at its most poignant.
Although Mistral is the name of a particular wind in France, and “gagner” means to win, the song is not about winning winds. Here is an explanation from Wikipedia: A Mistral Gagnant was a kind of candy and lottery. Some of them were “winning” (gagnant) and you could get another one for free. At his adult age, these candies were not on sale anymore. In Mistral gagnant, Renaud sings to his young daughter about his childhood and realizes that time flies, as will fly away the laughs of his daughter as a child. This broad theme plus the very simple music make this song one of the classics among Renaud’s “tender” songs. There is a good translation of the lyrics here into English (look at #3 or #2, not #1) and into Portuguese as well.
Here is the original version of the song, which dates back to 1985.
There are two songs on the album that I am particularly looking forward to hearing.
- The version of Manu by Jean-Louis Aubert, of Téléphone fame. I covered the original Manu in my post Chansons for melancholic mates 1 and you can hear two songs by Téléphone in my post Four of the best from France and Belgium.
- The cover of Chanson pour Pierrot by Raphaël Haroche. This song was slated to be my “Chansons for melodic mates 2” but haven’t posted it yet, on the grounds that melancholy is best dished out in small doses).
The official website of La Bande de Renaud is http://www.labandearenaud.com/
Renaud, now 62, dabbled in many musical styles, from rock to traditional folk from parts of France and Ireland (!). He was a champion of the left-wing youth and at times he could be very funny – he had a biting wit and reserved most of his contempt for the pretentious bourgeoisie – see, for example Renaud’s unforgettable ode to idiotic brothers-in-law. He can also be tremendously difficult to translate as he uses a lot of street argot. Unfortunately, he has battled alcoholism for much of his adult life. He often wore a red bandana around his neck, and La Bande de Renaud have incorporated that into their logo and much of their publicity material.
Here is an instrumental version of Mistral Gagnant that I found on YouTube by someone or an outfit called Harmonica, who seem to specialise in the music of Renaud.